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Two to Tango: Michael Jordan’s Sad Legacy as the Plutocrats’ Champ, and the Anti-Ali

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Five years ago on a bitterly cold day in February, I walked into a Bohemian coffee bar on Chicago’s Westside to interview Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the husband-and-wife couple who helped found the Leftist organization of young white militants known as the Weather Underground. For the two- and- a half hours that followed, I sat in rapt astonishment while these two regaled me with stories of their days on-the-run, of the Black Panthers and Emmet Till and their thoughts on everything from Ferguson to Occupy and immigrants’ rights. About halfway through, Bernardine recalled how she got her start in the movement as a young law student helping to organize rent strikes in black neighborhoods on Chicago’s Southside.

Of the dozens of boycotts she helped arrange, only one, she recalled proudly, resulted in an eviction,  and on the morning Cook County sheriff’s deputies executed the order, throngs of restive black volunteers gathered outside the apartment to load the family’s furniture onto a moving van. Bernardine was at the front of the crowd, and when the doors to the apartment opened, the neighbors began to heave and surge like a volcano preparing to vomit. Dohrn could sense one of the black men towering behind her and as he rushed past he handed her his sports coat for safekeeping. Handling the jacket, Dohrn couldn’t help but notice that the material was fine and expensive, and not usually what you’d expect to see worn by a member of Chicago’s black working class. It was only when he came to retrieve the jacket that she recognized its owner as one Muhammad Ali.

Thirty years later, a throng of reporters assembled around the locker of another resplendent Chicago athlete by the name of Michael  Jeffrey Jordan to ask his thoughts about Nike’s exploitation of child workers in southeast Asian sweatshops “I think that’s Nike’s decision to do what they can to make sure everything is correctly done,” he said. “I don’t know the complete situation. Why should I? I’m trying to do my job. Hopefully, Nike will do the right thing, whatever that might be.”

Two transcendent black athletes, two polar opposite responses to suffering, with Ali– the People’s Champ–  hurtling into the breach to come to the aid of his community and Jordan doing all he could to distance himself from an exploited class of darker-skinned people who were literally manufacturing much of his wealth.

Netflix last week debuted a 10-part documentary, the Last Dance, that examines in sharp relief  Jordan’s final championship season with the Chicago Bulls. Less than halfway through the mini-series, quarantined sports pundits are mostly engorged with praise for Jordan’s athleticism and myopic commitment to winning at all costs. And to be sure, Jordan, the basketball player, was a revelation. When he was on the court you simply couldn’t take your eyes off of him. I remember as a young man trying to chat up women at bars and becoming so engrossed in watching Jordan on the television screen that I simply lost interest in my date.

But there is also this: as a man, Jordan was an abject failure, who as a rule turned his back on his tribe, his community and the working class into which he was born, and, from all evidence, passed up every opportunity to ease the suffering of other human beings.  He famously refused his mother’s entreaties to support the black, liberal Democrat, Harvey Gantt, in a closely contested 1990 U.S. Senate race against North Carolina’s cartoonish segregationist, Jesse Helms, reportedly responding that “Republicans buy shoes too” referencing his lucrative endorsement deal with Nike. He declined to attend or support the 1995 Million Man March because, he told former New York Times columnist, William Rhoden, “I take care of my kids.” Charles Barkley once told Oprah Winfrey that Jordan is the cheapest man he knew, routinely telling panhandlers to go get a job at Mcdonalds, and the rapper, Chamillionaire, says Jordan humiliated him for asking for a photograph with the then-retired baller.

But the piece de resistance occurred before the 1991 NBA finals between the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers when Bulls’ guard Craig Hodges approached Jordan and Lakers superstar Magic Johnson about boycotting the opening game to protest state terror against blacks as exemplified by the Los Angeles Police Department’s videotaped beating of an unarmed motorist, Rodney King, three months earlier.  As Hodges recalled the incident for reporters years later, he proposed standing “ in solidarity with the black community while calling out racism and economic inequality in the NBA, where there were no black owners and almost no black coaches despite the fact that 75 percent of the players in the league were African American.”

Jordan gaslit Hodges as “crazy.”

The financial calamities confronting the U.S. today did not begin with the onset of a global pandemic three months ago but a social scourge that first began to infect the American body politic following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. who before his death prophesied that racial integration would subsume African Americans “into a burning house.” Along with Oprah and Obama and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and thousands of other black professionals who are, in effect, defectors, Jordan embodies the immolation of an African-American dialectic that married commerce and community, modernized the state, and exalted the individual only inasmuch as he or she helped to lift up the people who produced them.

With athletes and politicians like Ali, and King and Curt Flood and Paul Robeson and Tommie Smith and John Carlos helping shoulder some of the load, the American working class, generally, and blacks, specifically, were demanding a fairer return on their labor. By 1973, wages, household savings,  and the number of workers belonging to labor unions were at an all-time high, while fewer Americans lived in poverty than ever before or since. In 1973, there were 317 work stoppages involving at least 1,000 employees, and 424 the following year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Today, even before anyone heard of the coronavirus, wages, savings and the percentage of unionized employees had plummeted to historic lows, the national poverty rate has soared to historic highs, and there were seven work stoppages in 2017, the last year for which figures are available.

Seven.

This was not an accident. With the workers raising their flag in one battle after another beginning in the depths of the Great Depression, the wealthiest one percent and their vassals in government began to regroup in the early 1970s, and gather momentum with Ronald Reagan’s election. Critical to this bipartisan counterrevolution was using the news and entertainment media, the academy, nonprofits and political parties to marginalize and silence the African American voices that were often loudest in articulating proletarian demands on capital.  Jordan was merely a cog in that effort to depoliticize athletes, and effectively weaponize sports as an entertaining distraction from the class struggle, similar to plantation owners pitting slaves against each other in the boxing ring, or fielding baseball teams to allow exploited Central American farmworkers to let off steam.

“Our generation dropped the ball as a lot of us were more concerned with our own economic gain,” Hodges said. “We were at that point where branding was just beginning and we got caught up in individual branding rather than a unified movement.”

LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick and Carmelo Anthony and Eric Reid and the Bennett brothers and a generation of professional athletes who came of age in the 1990s when Cliff Huxtable was no longer on the air, Jordan was winning championships, and jobs in the American inner-city were disappearing, are more likely to speak out on behalf of the black community. Seemingly conscious of his shameful legacy, Jordan has belatedly begun to speak out against police violence, and contribute to charitable causes although he continues to underwhelm with his political and racial consciousness. Growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina where a cabal of white supremacists in 1898 organized a pogrom which murdered as many as 300 African Americans, Jordan told a book author in 2014 that he threw a soda at a white high school classmate who called him the N-word. The moral of Jordan’s story? He was guilty of reverse racism.

More recently, Jordan has defended his apolitical stance during his playing career as part of his commitment to winning, which, ironically enough, harkens back to arguments used to defend savage racist coaches like Adolph Rupp, Bear Bryant and Bobby Knight.  Jordan’s reputation among poor and working-class African Americans is strikingly similar to Pele’s with impoverished black Brazilians, who resent the soccer legend’s cozy relationship with the military junta that ruled Brazil for a generation.

“When I was playing, my vision – my tunnel vision – was my craft,” Jordan said recently. “Now I have more time to understand things around me.”

But that just doesn’t fly if you are profiting from the exploitation of Vietnamese girls as young as 12. And the Last Dance depicts Jordan as even indifferent to the contract struggle of his Bulls’ teammate, Scottie Pippen. As we stare down a pandemic that threatens to finish off the American working class, perhaps we should refrain from debates of whether Jordan is the GOAT, or greatest of all-time, and instead keep in mind the words of another Chicagoan who, as legend has it, dreamt of playing center field for the New York Mets, but gave his life to the people instead.

Here’s Fred Hampton:

“If you walk through life and don’t help anybody, you haven’t had much of a life”

Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me: As the Class War Heightens, the Media Muzzles America’s Fiercest Class Warriors, Blacks

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In late March of 2019, the liberal British daily newspaper, the Guardian, published an op/ed by one of its columnists, Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin magazine. In the article, entitled To fight racism, we need to think beyond reparations, Sunkara, a socialist, concedes that there is indeed a strong moral case to be made for a just recompense for the descendants of American slaves but such a race-specific measure is impractical and even counterproductive for the embattled working class as a whole.

Referencing the black writer Ta-Nehisi Coates who is a prominent proponent of reparations, Sunkara wrote:

“But what kind of bureaucratic process would be necessary to identify who gets to receive the reparations Coates supports? It can’t simply be race, because recent immigrants from Africa wouldn’t qualify, nor would the descendants of slaves held in former French or British colonies. Would we need a new bureau to establish ancestry? Is that overhead and the work it will involve for black Americans to prove that they qualify worth it compared to creating a universal program that will most help the marginalized anyway? Or consider this dilemma: money for reparations will come from government expenditure, of which around half is funded by income tax. Could we be in a situation where we’re asking, say, a black Jamaican descendant of slaves, or a poor Latino immigrant, to help fund a program that they can’t benefit from? Reparations wouldn’t be quite such a zero-sum game, but it would (be) hard to shake the perception. Is this really the basis that we can build a majoritarian coalition? We have a real alternative: solidaristic policies that, unlike reparations, are actually the mass demands of African Americans.”

Sunkara’s argument is unconvincing, reductive and largely bankrupt of relevant historical context but that’s hardly the point. Far more troubling is that Sunkara is not African American — his Wikipedia page indicates his parents are East Indian immigrants from Trinidad and that he was raised in the New York City suburbs of Westchester County —  yet a quick Google search of the terms “Guardian UK,” “reparations,” “U.S.” and “slaves” reveals that he is the only American commissioned by the paper thus far to opine on the topic of reparations.

Sunkara’s exalted status as the Guardian’s spokesman for 42 million black Americans is no accident but part of a broader media strategy to frustrate —if not deny altogether— the growing demands of the country’s most subjugated population for a fairer rate of return on our labor, and a more equitable distribution of opportunities.

The hubris on display is simply stunning: Sunkara and his peers infantilize African Americans by presuming to know what’s best for us. To fully understand the inherent racism, imagine a media milieu in which African Americans are routinely invited to speak on behalf of Jews.
The disconnect between narrator and subject is manifest in news segments and newspaper articles that describe ordinary Americans’ malaise without interviewing a single ordinary American, explore the growing homeless crisis without quoting a single homeless person, or feature non-black columnists piously lecturing blacks about how best to protest injustice.  When journalists of color are allowed to speak about their own in a mainstream forum, they almost universally parrot, rather ridiculously, the sentiments, biases and talking points of a panicked white ruling class that is increasingly desperate to fend off existential threats to its power and privilege.

The hubris on display is simply stunning: Sunkara and his peers infantilize African Americans by presuming to know what’s best for us. To fully understand the inherent racism, imagine a media milieu in which African Americans are routinely invited to speak on behalf of Jews.

At issue is not some jejune notion of diversity or the oft-mocked identity politics but rather a question of how best to incubate working-class political movements in America.  While it’s true that no two revolutions are identical, the sine qua non of liberal democracy is a black working class that is able to speak for itself. The correlation between black self-representation and proletarian revolution dates back to the Civil war when slaves, aided and abetted by white abolitionists, waged a massive resistance campaign that the famed sociologist W.E.B. DuBois famously dubbed a general strike, forcing Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation before African Americans effectively freed themselves by simply walking off the plantations, refusing to work, or sabotaging the South’s entire agricultural yield.

That momentum, DuBois and others theorize, set in motion modernizing reforms such as public schools that defined the postbellum Reconstruction era, and created a template for American pluralist movements that peaked in 1973 when poverty reached historic lows, black membership in labor unions reached all-time highs, and African American intellectuals were, if not ubiquitous, visible participants in civic debates.

The pairing of rising income levels and loudening black voices in the public sphere is not a coincidence but the culmination of a grassroots campaign begun at the apogee of the Great Depression. The 40-year epoch that began with the New Deal was characterized by the most robust expression of class solidarity and interracial collaboration in American history. In union halls and the news media, on college campuses and movie theaters and Broadway stages, blacks largely eschewed interlocutors to speak for ourselves and participate vigorously in American public life.

One of the main sparks for this conflagration was the 1931 arrest of nine black teenagers near Scottsboro, Alabama for allegedly raping two white women aboard a train. For American communists, the crisis represented an opportunity to gain a foothold in the African American community; three years earlier, the 6th Congress of the Communist International had proclaimed:

“It is essential for the Communist Party to make an energetic beginning now-at the present moment-with the organization of joint mass struggles of white and black workers against Negro oppression. This alone will enable us to get rid of the bourgeois white chauvinism which is polluting the ranks of the white workers in America, to overcome the distrust of the Negro masses caused by the inhuman barbarous Negro slave traffic still carried on by the American bourgeoisie-in as much as it is directed even against all white workers-and to win over to our side these millions of Negroes as active fellow-fighters in the struggle for the overthrow of bourgeois power throughout America”

Despite scant and conflicting evidence, the Scottsboro Boys were convicted in April of 1931, and all but one, 13-year old Roy Wright, sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Survey after survey had already informed party leaders that their didactic pamphlets and journals did not produce the desired impact, and they decided instead to mount an international campaign which put the families of the falsely accused men front-and-center. Of those sent abroad was a widow and domestic servant from Chattanooga, Ada Wright, the mother of Roy and his older brother Andy who had been sentenced to death.
Brushing aside the timid legal counsel provided by NAACP executives who were ambivalent about defending nine jobless transients, the CPUSA and its legal arm, the International Labor Defense, pressured the Alabama Supreme Court to consider their appeal filed on behalf of the defendants. When the court affirmed the verdicts nearly a year later, however, and rescheduled the executions for May of 1932, party leaders decided they needed a new strategy.

Survey after survey had already informed party leaders that their didactic pamphlets and journals did not produce the desired impact, and they decided instead to mount an international campaign which put the families of the falsely accused men front-and-center. Of those sent abroad was a widow and domestic servant from Chattanooga, Ada Wright, the mother of Roy and his older brother Andy who had been sentenced to death. Wright, one activist wrote later, couldn’t discern an “elephant from a Communist” but accompanied by an ILD lawyer, she toured 16 countries in the spring of 1932, and in her own words compared the plight of the Scottsboro boys to “class war prisoners all over the world.”

In a 2001 paper by George Washington University English Professor James A. Miller, and historians Susan Dabney Pennybacker, and Eve Rosenhaft wrote:

“She spoke in London, Manchester, Dundee, Kirkaldy, Glasgow, and Bristol, along with ILD organizers. Prime Minister Eamon De Valera prohibited Wright from entering Ireland. She traveled instead to Scandinavia, where 10,000 people reportedly demonstrated in Copenhagen alone. Wright and Engdahl again crossed the Belgian border illegally to visit the coal district of Wallonia in late August 1932. She addressed audiences of women in Charleroi and in Gilly, the heart of the “moving and often murderous arena” of the Borinage. When she was arrested in Charleroi, a crowd of mothers with babes in arms accompanied her to the police station. She was again arrested in Kladno, Czechoslovakia, on suspicion of spreading Communist propaganda with the intent to interfere in local politics: “I answered that I don’t know anything about local conditions in Kladno, that I’m not trained enough to give a political speech and I don’t know enough about Communism yet to be a good Communist.”

Still, her star turn on the European stage was a game-changer, winning hearts and minds by reimagining blacks as political actors and not merely passive victims, alternately persuading whites such as John Howard Lawson, the dean of the Hollywood 10, to diligently portray blacks as equal to whites in their film scripts, and many blacks to view communists as better allies than the black bourgeoisie as exemplified by the NAACP. So forceful a speaker was Wright that Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for regular updates on her subsequent European tours and even considered intervening in the case; all nine were eventually exonerated. Wright credited “the Russians” with saving her sons until the day she died. More importantly, Wright’s agency reified a budding biracial coalition that went on to assemble the most prosperous working class in history —months after her 1932 tour concluded, labor leader Harry Bridges toured black churches in the Bay area to enlist blacks to join the segregated dockworkers’ union —  and inspired the civil rights, black power, Latino rights, LGBT, antiwar and feminist movements.

Anyone familiar with postcolonial studies will, of course, recognize the silencing of black voices as Orientalism, as defined in the late Edward Said’s groundbreaking 1978 book of the same name. Said posited that the West has historically sought to qualify its imperialism by assigning men of science and letters the exercise of shifting the blame for colonialism, from the colonizer to the colonized. The Palestinian Said named this brand of racist pseudoscience for the unfortunate term coined by the West to describe the Arab world to its East and dated its practice as far back as France’s 1798 invasion of Egypt, when Napoleon encouraged artists, writers, and anthropologists to re-imagine the Nile’s inhabitants, or to Orientalize the Orient. Of the famed French novelist’s depiction of a 19th-century dancer, Said wrote:

Flaubert’s encounter with an Egyptian courtesan produced a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence, or history. He spoke for and represented her. He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of domination that allowed him not only to possess (her) physically but to speak for her and tell his readers in what way she was “typically Oriental.”

With the American Empire at its nadir, an insincere liberal class is doubling down on its efforts to control the narrative by squeezing authentic black voices out of the picture, and effectively claiming authorship of all revolution. Sources as disparate as the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal and Malcolm X explain why: in his 1944 tome, An American Dilemma, Myrdal attributes racist attitudes in the U.S. to simple jealousy, and Malcolm often said that the white liberal, and white conservative wanted the same thing, which was their turn at the top of a racial hierarchy.

As evidence, consider Sunkara’s myopic critique of reparations. He envisions reparations as a means-tested welfare program, the burden of which would be borne by other working-class Americans. But reparations could be viewed as as a means to an end, specifically sovereignty for African Americans in an effort to break an endless cycle of proletarian revolt in which whites begin to collaborate with blacks to combat a catastrophic crisis, only to again repudiate their fellow black coworkers once the threat has subsided.

In that context, reparations could take the form of autonomous empowerment zones financed by tax receipts gleaned from downtown business districts or a surtax on the very banks which targeted blacks and Latinos with fraudulent subprime home loans. You needn’t be a Marxist to understand that such an approach could, in fact, unite black and white workers rather than polarize us.

Whatever the fix, the Guardian’s readers would almost certainly have been far better informed on the issue if it had been written by any number of African American intellectuals who retain working-class credentials such as Anthony Monteiro, Sandy Darity, or Frank Wilderson, activist/writers such as Mel Reeves, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, and Kevin Alexander Gray, or journalists such as Sunni Khalid, Nolu Crockett Ntonga, Kenneth Walker, Margaret Kimberly, Glenn Ford, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, LeRon Barton or Esther Iverem.

Taken in its totality, the silencing of black radical voices works in tandem with the news media’s abandonment of storytelling to isolate the very people who have historically been engines of modernization. Amplifying black voices is not intended as some kind of precious paean to identity politics but as a tactic for grinding out a win in America’s class war by centering the nation’s most ferocious class warriors.

In her iconic 1983 essay, Can the Subaltern Speak?, the Indian scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explores the power dynamics inherent in silencing the most marginalized populations.

If the American working class is to ever be free, we better all pray the answer to Spivak’s question is “yes!”

1931 cartoon in the communist periodical, the Daily Worker

Tell A Story, Shame the Devil: How Pundits, Tweets, and Listicles Destroyed American Journalism

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The cover story of the December 6th, 1993 issue of the New Yorker was akin to a thunderclap. Written by Mark Danner, the article entitled The Truth of El Mozote is a 22,000-word account of the My Lai-like massacre of nearly 1,000 villagers in the central American country of El Salvador. It begins:

“Heading up into the mountains of Morazán, in the bright, clear air near the Honduran border, you cross the Torola River, the wooden slats of the one-lane bridge clattering beneath your wheels, and enter what was the fiercest of El Salvador’s zonas rojas — or “red zones,” as the military officers knew them during a decade of civil war — and after climbing for some time you take leave of the worn blacktop to follow for several miles a bone-jarring dirt track that hugs a mountainside, and soon you will find, among ruined towns and long-abandoned villages that are coming slowly, painfully back to life, a tiny hamlet, by now little more than a scattering of ruins, that is being rapidly reclaimed by the earth, its broken adobe walls cracking and crumbling and giving way before an onslaught of weeds, which are fuelled by the rain that beats down each afternoon and by the fog that settles heavily at night in the valleys. Nearby, in the long-depopulated villages, you can see stirrings of life: even in Arambala, a mile or so away, with its broad grassy plaza bordered by collapsed buildings and dominated, where once a fine church stood, by a shell-pocked bell tower and a jagged adobe arch looming against the sky — even here, a boy leads a brown cow by a rope, a man in a billed cap and bluejeans trudges along bearing lengths of lumber on his shoulder, three little girls stand on tiptoe at a porch railing, waving and giggling at a passing car.”

But follow the stony dirt track, which turns and twists through the woodland, and in a few minutes you enter a large clearing, and here all is quiet. No one has returned to El Mozote. Empty as it is, shot through with sunlight, the place remains — as a young guerrilla who had patrolled here during the war told me with a shiver — espantoso: spooky, scary, dreadful. After a moment’s gaze, half a dozen battered structures — roofless, doorless, windowless, half engulfed by underbrush — resolve themselves into a semblance of pattern: four ruins off to the right must have marked the main street, and a fifth the beginning of a side lane, while an open area opposite looks to have been a common, though no church can be seen — only a ragged knoll, a sort of earthen platform nearly invisible beneath a great tangle of weeds and brush.

Relying principally on excavations by an Argentine forensic team sifting through the mass graves, and a Salvadoran woman, Rufina Amaya Marquez, who managed to escape the carnage, Danner tells the poignant story of what happened in a remote corner of the Americas over two days in December of 1981. In doing so, he rebuts the U.S. government’s steadfast characterization of the slaughter as a skirmish between CIA-backed Salvadoran troops and Marxist guerillas.

The New Yorker billed Danner’s Truth of El Mozote as a “parable of the Cold War” and, indeed, it shined a spotlight on the proxy wars that erupted across the global South, pitting the mostly Europeans who owned colonized settlements across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, against the black and brown workers who built them. Yet it also represents a triumph of nonfiction storytelling, and the intimate reportage that is its rebar, providing a showcase for a model of journalism, now defunct, that is transformative rather than transactional.

Danner’s artful prose has all-but disappeared from today’s media, replaced by 16-character tweets, memes, and something called listicles. Gone are storytellers who trafficked in deep and close-up reporting and interviews with the people-on-the ground, and in their place has surfaced bloggers and podcasters and pundits who seem preoccupied with gazing at their own navels and describing it for us. If the massacre at El Mozote were somehow published today, Fox News would doubtless assemble a junta of retired military generals to rebuke its most damning claims, CNN would interview some Juan Guaido-like character whose family is descended from the European elite that settled in El Salvador, MSNBC would pull from the golf course some Reagan-era Cold warrior or some fellow from the Hoover Institute to wax philosophically on the dangers posed by the communist menace, Democracy Now would interview a member of the (all-white) Argentine forensic team to recount their findings, and Jacobin would publish a Q and A with some scholar whose new ebook you can buy on Amazon for $19.99. Much like the leftist dissidents from Argentina’s La Guerra Sucia, or Dirty War, Rufina Amaya  Marquez and her encounter with evil would be disappeared, airbrushed, as it were out of the picture, leaving the telling of her story to those who tried to kill her, and those who experienced it second-hand, if at all.

What is lost, ultimately, is an understanding of both the world and each other. Whether we realize it or not, we need stories; the best educators, trial lawyers, and politicians can attest to the power of storytelling. Narrative strengthens our humanity, informs our democracy, fends off ignorance and ennui. Journalism in the U.S. has never been good overall —I can make a compelling argument that the news media’s raison d’etre has traditionally been to head off class war in America by fomenting a race war  — but at its best, as exemplified by Danner’s work in El Salvador, it can narrow the yawning divide that is the source of our discontent.

That the United States is today a colossal wreck reflects the abject failure of all of the country’s liberal institutions —  from labor unions to the academy to churches to political parties —  but none so much as the American news media. Today’s journalists have abandoned even the pretense of inquiry in an effort to reproduce inequality by asserting their authority, their singular expertise in addressing all that ails we, the people. This explains why they typically eschew narrative and reportage for access to the powerful and panels of pundits and politicians which continues to center the very same voices who are wholly responsible for the perfect storm of political, economic and environmental crises that are bearing down on us. Consider for a moment the architecture of storytelling like Danner’s, which centers not the journalist, but his or her subject.

Contrast that with the Intercept’s interview last year with Brazil’s ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was jailed at the time on trumped-up corruption charges pressed by conservative politicians who wanted to derail a reelection bid by the popular president, commonly known as “Lula.” In the wide-ranging interview, Glenn Greenwald covered a lot of ground and did not spare Lula the tough questions about the failures of both his administration or the policies of his center-left Workers Party. But what Greenwald failed to do, spectacularly so, is identify the narratives that, like Danner’s article 26 years earlier, might’ve deepened our understanding not just of Brazil, but of our own country, and the world.

Greenwald failed to explore in his follow-up questioning, or produce a follow-up documentary based on the interview, which could’ve contextualized Lula and his Workers’ Party as part of Latin America’s Pink Tide, an uprising of leftist governments that began to sweep America’s “backyard” bracketed by the 1998 election of Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez, and the 2007 election of Rafael Correa. First elected in 2002, Lula clearly distanced his government from the Pink Tide, choosing a moderate third way, akin to Bill Clinton, that produced some modest, liberal reforms, but did nothing to sever Brazil’s ties to Wall Street finance. For much of his presidency, and that of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil continued to pay interest rates on its public debt that was among the highest in the world, privileging investors while killing exports, and job creation. Given that the only Pink Tide state that survived the offensive from Washington is the nation that embraced socialism most ardently, Venezuela, will Lula embrace more radical, transformative policies that appeal to Brazil’s black majority in his political comeback?  My guess is that Greenwald rarely, if ever ventures into Brazil’s favelas for if he did he almost surely would’ve asked if the mostly liberal reformers who headline the Pink Tide were part of a plutocratic strategy to head off more radical policies, in much the same way that Obama was handpicked by Wall Street to neutralize the political unrest that began to erupt following the Great Recession?

That question would have particular resonance stateside. The Portuguese settlers imported more Africans to toil as slaves than any country in the world —the U.S. is a distant second —and today is home to more people of African descent than any country save Nigeria. Slavery in Brazil outlasted its American counterpart by 23 years. Consequently, Brazil is virtually a mirror image of the U.S. in terms of economic inequality, violence against blacks, and the voters’ choice of a vile, Donald Trump mini-me as president.  Said Lula:

“It’s because this isn’t just an economic question; it’s a cultural issue. One has to remember that it was only a little over a hundred years ago that slavery was legally abolished, and that it continues in the minds of many. That’s why the greatest victims of police violence are black, that’s why those who are black earn less than 50 percent less than those who are white, and that’s why black women earn less than white women. That’s why those who are black have a lower average level of schooling than those who are white. Why? Because slavery is still prevalent deep within people’s consciousness. It’s a harsh thing to say but it’s true. And this doesn’t change overnight. Really, I think deep down it’s not an economic question. It’s a set of cultural, political and sociological issues.”

Sound familiar?

“Storifying” reporting, contextualizing it in the current political drama that grips Brazil, represents journalism that can heal by connecting the dots, and shining a light on our way forward.

Part of the problem is simply a numbers game. Never especially diverse, the news media has undergone a stark transformation over the last generation, triggered by Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act, which deregulated the industry and allowed giant corporations to buy up thousands of news outlets across the country, tightening their monopoly on the flow of information in the United States and around the world. Since the law was enacted, the number of black journalists in U.S. newsrooms has plummeted by nearly half, from 2,946 in 1998 to 1,560 in 2015, according to the American Society for Newspaper Editors, or ASNE. On a per-capita basis, that figure is slightly smaller than it was in 1890, when the U.S. Census counted 300 black journalists out of a total population of 62 million, compared with 330 million today.

According to ASNE, as a percentage of the workforce, blacks accounted for 5.4 percent of all editorial staff in 2015 — a proportion virtually identical to the 1968 Kerner Commission Report’s estimate that African-Americans represented only 5 percent of the nation’s journalism workforce then. Even fewer, about 1 percent, are supervising editors.

The Kerner Commission was charged with identifying the causes of the season of revolts that erupted in America’s big cities beginning with the Watts rebellion in August of 1965 and climaxed three years later following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The common thread in all of the riots, the report’s authors wrote, was racial discrimination in housing, education, job opportunities and, centrally, the news media, which was so disconnected from the black community writ large that it had almost nothing useful to say about its causes, or how to prevent such uprisings in the future.

Danner is white, but there was at least an effort in newsrooms across the country to rectify the issues identified by the Kerner Commission report, although it was eventually overwhelmed by the campaign to whitewash history and discourage whites from supporting the progressive social movements of people of color. Seldom does the media connect us to a world outside the Beltway, or beyond Harvard Square. The result is a media milieu which hits the mute button on Rufina Amaya Marquez, and where, to quote Ossie Davis’ character, Da Mayor, in Spike Lee’s iconic 1989 movie Do the Right Thing, “those who’ll say, don’t know, and those who know, can’t say!”

 

 

Photo credit (By Antonioescobar123 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73104294).

From Kobe to Cape Fear: When the Face of Sexual Menace is Black

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As I recall the incident some 20 years later, it was my second trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a midsized car alongside my driver, Pierre, and interpreter, Tom and we were returning to the hotel in the capital city of Kinshasa after a frustrating morning of trying to wrest information from government ministers and Western ambassadors. Pierre was already driving slowly on a wide, paved but empty road when we spotted a couple, a black man and a white woman, about 50 yards ahead crossing the intersection. As we approached the stop sign, the young black man did a double-take, and, with his spider-senses apparently tingling, he bundled his blonde paramour in his arms and rushed her out of harm’s way.

Stopped at the sign, Tom, Pierre and myself, all of us black, watched this scene unfold as though we were watching a movie. There was a pregnant pause, followed by this eruption of knee-slapping laughter, and Pierre saying in French: “Brothers and their white women!”

White supremacy represents death by a thousand cuts and accordingly, its psychopathy manifests itself in our daily lives in any number of ways. From the only perspective I have, as that of a 55-year old black man, I am intimately familiar with the self-loathing African who sees white companionship as a kind of validation of his self-worth, and an affirmation that he, or she, is in fact not a nigger. To the Congolese man who saved his partner from the imminent danger of what was essentially a parked car, his date was not a woman, but a prize, or better yet, a talisman, that would ward off the evil spirits that menace we who are blacker than blue, the children of a lesser God.

But the wide-range of responses to the death of the retired NBA icon Kobe Bryant is a reminder that blacks are not the only ones traumatized by the tribalism that forms the fault lines in America’s class war. Using the colonized mind of the black man I encountered long ago on a Congolese street as a proxy for our own illogic, we can plainly see that he viewed himself as a non-combatant in the class struggle. But what about the white woman who was the object of his twisted affection? Is it likely that she saw herself as part of the proletariat, a class warrior responsible for her comrades and her countrymen in fending off a rapacious capitalist system, that grinds, like Grendel, the bone and gristle of the working class, generally, and people of color and women especially?

Or was she more likely to believe that she is, in fact, also a non-combatant, somehow a thing apart, floating above the fray, deserving of the reverence afforded her by her black protector and the Madonna-like status bestowed on white womanhood by the broader society? Or in plain proletarian English, if black people often believe that the white man’s ice is indeed colder, isn’t it likely that most whites will begin to believe it as well?

The remorseless response of many white women to Bryant’s death four days ago in a helicopter crash would seem to suggest that is indeed the case. Bryant was no angel: charged with the brutal sexual assault of a white teenage girl in 2003, he eventually settled out of court, but according to the sportswriter Dave Zirin, was required to acknowledge his criminal wrongdoing in court as part of the agreement. And in black barbershops and salons across the country, he was widely (though not universally) seen as disengaged from the African American community, and his disparaging remarks in 2014 about supporters of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin earned him the enmity of millions, many of whom dismissed him as an Uncle Tom.

But while it is almost certainly true that Bryant committed an unspeakable act when he was 25, he was not Harvey Weinstein, or Matt Lauer, or Charlie Rose, or Jeffrey Epstein, all of whom, I would remind you, were aided and abetted by white women in carrying out a series of rapes over many years.

Yet, from my Facebook page, you would think that Bryant was the moral equivalent of OJ Simpson, or worse, mass murderers like Henry Kissinger, George Bush, or Barack Obama.

“No sympathy for rapists!” wrote one white woman.

“Happy when a rapist dies,” wrote another, “and I’ll also be happy when Michael Vick dies, another privileged asshole who visited unheard-of horrors on other sentient beings.”

“I don’t grieve for rapists regardless of color, creed or status,” wrote one white man. “They can burn in an integrated Hell.”

This vitriol, some friends have suggested, does not reflect racial animosity but rather the many women who have endured the horror of a sexual assault; the nonstop news coverage of Bryant’s death is a trigger that forces them to relive the experience. I have no doubt that this is true and while as a man who has never experienced sexual assault I can’t imagine the deep sorrow and rage that these women feel on a daily basis, I can say that I try, every day, to do my part to demolish a rape culture that is as old as the Republic.

But black people also have triggers, and white women’s preoccupation with the black rapist, real and mostly imagined, is one of them, in no small part because of the outsized role that the ideal of the black sexual menace has played in our social alienation, and physical death. Flip through the American family album, and there he is, the black boogeyman, lurking in the shadows to attack the virginal white woman. Birth of a Nation? Check. Willie Horton? Check. Scottsboro Boys? Check. Emmett Till? Check. When the heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson and a scion of America’s royal family, William Kennedy Smith went on trial at roughly the same time for rape, only one was convicted. Guess who? Shit, the feds accused the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson of raping his own Goddamn wife. The slander even travels: the initial news reports of the 2003 ambush of Private First Class Jessica Lynch depicted the petit blonde as Rambo, valiantly fighting off her Iraqi attackers until finally she was captured by the brown-skinned Iraqi brutes, who, it was suggested by the Washington Post, violated her as she lay unconscious in a hospital bed. (To her credit, Lynch would later say that her slain Native American best friend, Lori Piestewa, was the real heroine in the saga, and Iraqi medical personnel would later tell reporters that they were especially vigilant in caring for Lynch because they knew that the Americans would capitalize on any misstep to question their basic humanity and therefore, qualify their colonial annexation of the country. Moreover, there was no dramatic rescue; Iraqi doctors phoned the nearest U.S. military installation to inform them that Lynch was healthy enough to be transferred to their care).

But nothing compares to the incomparable horror that gripped the nation in the autumn of 1994: a young, white single mother was stopped at an intersection while driving alone with her two sons on a dark and desolate South Carolina road when suddenly she was accosted by a man who materializes, like an apparition, from the shadows. He is black, armed, and in a hurry, hijacking the maroon Mazda compact and forcing the frantic 23-year old Susan Smith to drive before finally kicking her out, and speeding off into the night with her two towheaded boys. When the car was dragged nine days later from the bottom of John D. Long Lake in Union, South Carolina, the bodies of the two toddlers were found still strapped in their car seats.

An hour’s drive away across the state line in Charlotte, another white woman, Glenda Gilmore, was driving her own son to preschool when she first heard of the shocking affair on National Public Radio.  “I hugged my own little guy and stumbled out of the car,” she wrote later. “Some of the other mothers were crying. We said lingering goodbyes that morning and arrived early that afternoon to gather our children.” That evening the television news broadcast the composite sketch of the gunman who had abducted Smith’s sons, three -year old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander. On the screen appeared a scowling, dark-complexioned black man, lithe as a bantamweight, with beady eyes that peered from underneath a knit cap.  A wave of clarity washed over Gilmore like a riptide following a full moon, and she knew, just as surely as she knew her own name, that the kidnapping was a hoax.

“Susan Smith was lying, I realized in a rush,” wrote Gilmore. “For I had ‘seen’ this man before in sources almost 100 years old. He was the incubus: in mythology, he is a winged demon that has sexual intercourse with women while they sleep; on the ground in 1898 he represented the black beast rapist.”

In her madness, Smith had subconsciously described for a police sketch artist a replica of the chimera conjured by three white supremacists-cum- warlocks who met in the spring of 1898 to plot the violent overthrow of North Carolina’s biracial government, known as the Fusionists, which was delivering the goods to the working class in the state. Holed up at the Chattawka Hotel in the coastal city of New Bern, the three men — Furnifold Simmons, chairman of the state Democratic party, Josephus Daniels, the publisher of the Raleigh News and Observer, and a young attorney Charles Brantley Aycock — acknowledged that they had virtually no chance of beating the opposition in a fair fight at the ballot box because the Democrats hadn’t done jack for the people during their abysmal 18-years as North Carolina’s governing party. They needed a distraction.

What was birthed by Simmons, Aycock and Daniels in that New Bern hotel room was as monstrous, and farcical, as any marketing strategy in the 19th century, surpassed in both horror and preposterousness only by the Belgian King Leopold’s genocidal reconfiguration of the African Congo into the largest labor camp in recorded history while grandstanding as the leader of a global campaign to abolish slavery.

What issue could possibly convince white men to vote against their self-interest?

Well, sex of course.

Absent any real black rapists to pin the rap on, the three coup-plotters simply invented them out of whole cloth. With its large circulation, Daniels’ daily broadsheet, the News and Observer, was especially useful in the plan to depict black men as unfit to participate in public life, and leading the paper’s effort was a young artist named Ethre Jennett, aka Sampson Huckleberry.  Of his roster of minstrels and monsters, none was more effective than the incubus, with his sinewy, claw-like fingers, menacing gaze, spindly overbite, and bat-like wings emblazoned with the words “Negro Rule.”  While there is no way to know for sure, it seems likely that Simmons’ primary inspiration for his creation was a British novel that had been published in 1897 and was all- the- rage- in America at the time: Bram Stoker’ Dracula.

This would, of course, be laughable were it not so effective. Between 1880 and 1950, nearly 5,000 people were lynched, according to the American Bar Association, or nearly six people every month for 70 years.

White women were hardly innocent bystanders. As many as 300 blacks (and dozens of their nigger-loving white allies) were murdered by the Wilmington mob which, make no mistake about it, was largely encouraged by white women, the putative victims of these imaginary rapes. In the runup to the riot, the writer and politician Rebecca Latimer Felton rather famously exhorted her fellow wypipo: “If it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand times a week if necessary.”

The irony, of course, is that while there are, and continue to be black rapists, the world has never seen a crime spree like the 500-year campaign by the white male settler, who has raped so many African and indigenous and white women that he has created entirely new racial categories of humanity. Indeed, classifications such as mestizo and quadroon were necessitated by circumstances in the New World, not the old. The civil rights movement was, in part, a response to the proliferation of sexual assaults by white men of black women, especially in the Deep South.

White women, generally speaking, were fine with this as long as black women showed up for work to nurse and feed their children. In agreeing to this pact with white men, white women were signatories to a protection racket, in which they surrendered their political and economic rights in exchange for a kind of homeland security, which kept the largely folkloric black rapist at bay.

I was not a Kobe fan especially. Had Allen Iverson or Dwyane Wade or LeBron died in a helicopter crash, I would likely be beside myself with grief. And I certainly understand anyone who says that they are not mourning a celebrity, with a checkered past, who they did not know. But I remember Kobe’s dad when he played alongside my childhood idol, Dr. J, and I remember how Kobe gave such joy to so many children, black and white, the way Dr. J did for me. What’s more, I know that at 41, he might well have redeemed himself for the tremendous pain he inflicted on that young woman in a Colorado hotel. His death saddens me, if only because it saddens others, and because he may have contributed great things to this world before all was said and done.

What I don’t understand, however, is the gracelessness of people who cheer his death, the way some cheered him on the court. I remember well the Susan Smith case, and I remember saying to a friend, when South Carolina authorities revealed that she had drowned her children, and blamed it, yet again, on an imaginary black man, that I hoped she did not get the chair. She too is a child of God, who committed an unspeakable act, and spilling her blood would achieve nothing.

But for some reason, the white settler needs the black man, and the black woman on the stake, like Jesus, suffering, dying, for your sins, for no other reason, I believe, than that it reassures them that no matter how much things change, they will forever be the master, and we will forever be their slaves. For this reason, and only this reason, the laboring classes in America are a defeated people, and will remain so for as long as we walk this earth.

And if you think I am wrong, if you doubt what I am saying is true, then answer this question: would white women who are so outraged by Kobe be so animated, so contemptuous, so hateful, if his victim had been black?

Happy Birthday to the Most Beautiful Boogeyman: Celebrating 55 Years of Life in a Country Long Dead

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Cuz every brotha man’s life
Is like a roll of the dice, right?

Public Enemy

 

I must’ve been about 9 or 10 when I accompanied my father to the Indianapolis farmers market on an Indian summer weekend afternoon in 1974 or 75. Knowing my father’s appetites as I do, we had likely devoured a few German sausages and cheese, and with our work done, were preparing to return home when I spotted an older black man shuffling towards us. As I remember the incident now nearly a half-century later, the man was north of 70 with a frame so slight that his chest appeared caved-in, or sunken, like a toppled bird’s nest. But he was, as we used to say, cleaner than the board of health, dressed in a worn but neat brown suit, necktie, and fedora. I remember the man approaching us slowly, and the closer he got, the more I could discern a look of unmistakable anguish on his face, that left me wondering, in the seconds before his arrival, if he wasn’t planning to attack my old man.

Instead, he clasped my father’s right hand tightly in his, and in a raspy voice repeated these words, like a mantra, for what seemed like an eternity:

“I’m sorry, son. I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry.”

Clearly embarrassed, my father withheld absolution because none was warranted, and instead tried to console the man while simultaneously attempting to regain control of his annexed hand. “It’s okay, Mr. Goodloe. It wasn’t your fault. No one ever blamed you.”

What I would learn later was that on a gorgeous late summer Saturday in 1935, a then-27-year-old Theodore Goodloe was the driver of a truck shuttling 33 young, festive hay riders from the city’s historically-black neighborhood of Haughville when it was sideswiped by a truck driven by a white man. Seven people were seriously injured and two were killed: 22-year old Arthur Kelley and a 14-year-old boy who were both apparently dangling their legs from the left side of the truck when the collision occurred. The teenage boy died instantly; both his legs were severed at the knee. 

His name was John Jeter and 55 years ago today my parents paid homage to the older brother my father never knew by naming their second son, and third child me after him. In a front-page article, the city’s black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder, described the driver of the second truck, Earl Bramlet, as 24. He was not charged, but I am familiar with that westside street where the accident occurred and it is plainly too narrow to accommodate two trucks driving side-by-side (the Recorder describes the road width at 18 feet which is exactly the width of the two nine-foot wide trucks). It would be nothing less than reckless to attempt to pass under the best of conditions, and downright murderous if you see a pair of legs protruding from the open bed. Maybe Bramlet’s judgment was impaired by alcohol, or the kind of racial animus that found its voice during the Great Depression, but whatever the case, you can rest assured that had the situation been reversed, and Bramlet had been black and the hay riders white, someone would’ve gone to the can, or strung up in a tree. 

And so it goes as I celebrate (for lack of a better word) today my 55th birthday. I wish I could say it feels like MJ dropping that double nickel in the Garden, baby, but it most surely does not. What defines my life more than anything is that I am descended from the second largest population of Africans spirited away from the land of their birth to live and toil far from home on a continent that is dark and cold and foreboding, among the largest settlement of Europeans in the history of the world.  I feel like something that’s been dug up, as though my body is the physical manifestation of a body politic that is as disfigured as the body of the uncle for whom I was named. Everything hurts, as though my legs have been shorn off at the knee, and what remains of me is a constellation of stigmatas and an outsized worry that for however many days that lay ahead of me, I may be condemned to walk the earth aimlessly like Theodore Goodloe obsessed with a question so agonizing it blots out the sun:

What does it mean to suffer and why couldn’t I do more to stop it?

Even more nettlesome for my generation is that we inherited from our parents a country that was far better than the one they were born into, yet are bequeathing to our children a country that is far worse. Somehow, my demographic cohort managed to piss away the whole of the 20th century: for all intents and purposes, African Americans today own no more of the nation, one percent, than did the freedpeople when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  

My paternal grandfather, my father’s father, was born 21 years later in 1884 in Union City, South Carolina, which is notorious for the 1993 case in which a white woman named Susan Smith murdered her two towheaded boys and told police that a black man had carjacked her at gunpoint and sped off with her kids. James Jeter fled the South sometime after the turn of the century at least in part, my sister and I surmise, to elude the explosion of Jim Crow violence that followed the 1898 racial massacre in neighboring North Carolina and ended up in Indianapolis sometime around World War 1, landing work at the Link-Belt chain factory, and settling in the same Haughville neighborhood that would later produce Oscar Robertson, and jazz musicians Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, and J.J. Johnson. 

The year 1935 was an awful one for the Jeter clan; two months before my uncle John was killed, my father’s mother Lula, died of tuberculosis, I believe. And it wasn’t all that great for my mama’s family either; in May, FDR signed legislation creating the Works Progress Administration, which would later employ my maternal grandfather Ray Shannon, who was the most dignified man I have ever known. It’s been a grind ever since. In my lifetime, my people, my family, my community, has suffered virtually every indignity known to mankind. My father was unemployed on the day I was born he had been fired from a bookbinding company because bill collectors kept calling him on the job to dun him for arrearages and landed work at the Indianapolis Chrysler foundry not far from where his brother was killed. He became the first skilled tradesman and was known, his coworkers told us at his wake, to encourage other blacks to enroll in the training courses to do the same and take advantage of the higher pay and less strenuous labor. But a story he told me when I was probably 15 haunts me to this day. Under the collective bargaining agreement between Chrysler and the UAW, promotions at the plant were determined by a test. The job went to to the applicant who scored the highest. Sometime around 1980, as I recall it, that applicant was my father (the scores were posted on a bulletin board). My father waited patiently for his promotion. Weeks passed. Crickets. Finally, he asked his supervisor. “Jeter,” the white boss said, “if I put a nigger in that job you know we’ll both be fired.”

I think that more-or-less broke my father. His drinking seemed to escalate around that time and he really went at it hard for the better part of the next 15 years.   

I wish that story was unique but it is not, by a long shot. Like a Biblical plague, my kith and kin have suffered firings, demotions, predatory subprime loans, predatory college loans, depression, workplace injuries, and all manner of disrespect and depraved indifference from doctors and nurses and police and lawyers and teachers. My Uncle Robert, who everyone agrees was the smartest in a smart family, fed the lab rats at Eli Lilly for 30 years. One friend from high school was beaten so badly by the police that it caused brain damage; a boy I used to babysit was killed in a shootout with police outside Chicago; just last month, my nephew was fired from his job for being two minutes late to work, and, I am sure, because his bosses came to the conclusion that he was the smartest mothafucka in the room.

I don’t tell you these things because my family is unique but because it is not. Knowledge is sorrow, life is suffering, but in this eternal class struggle no one seems to take incoming fire with the same frequency and velocity as the sons and daughters of Africa. Our experience is akin to a lost chapter of the Bible, as we struggle to free ourselves from the pharaohs of this new and bitter earth, who mock us with their triumph, contrasted against our poverty, our enslavement, our shame at being subjugated for so long.

And so my 55th birthday has been one of reflection, and, if I’m honest, a bit of mourning, for the Beloved Community that never was, and this wretched white Republic that must always be, and an uncle who I never knew yet whose gruesome death represents a kind of baptism-by-fire into this wicked, wretched land, serving as a reminder that evil exists in this world, and will continue to do so until we do what the NYPD did to Eric Garner, and choke the living shit out of it, for all the world to see. 

The Last Kicks of a Dying Mule

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Adrift in a Decolonizing World, the White Settler Makes a Final, Furious Stand

Anticipating a government plan to seize their farms for redistribution to landless blacks, white South Africans have begun shuttling ex-Israeli commandos into the country to train embattled farmers to defend their properties, some parcels of which have been in their families’ hands for more than a century.

The white farmers’ militant defiance is redolent of an old Cedric the Entertainer punchline– “I wish a kaffir would try to take my farm”–but this is no joke. South Africa’s black majority and heavily-armed white minority–especially the descendants of the Dutch and French Huguenots known as Afrikaners– both claim a kind of spiritual title to the land, and bloodshed will almost certainly attend any effort to expropriate property without compensation.

The Israelis who are lending white South Africans a hand, of course, know a thing or two about what it takes to dispossess a darker-skinned people of their ancestral lands; since emerging victorious in the 1967 Six-Day War with its Arab neighbors, Israel has illegally annexed more and more land, squeezing Palestinians into smaller and smaller slums, akin to South Africa’s all-black townships, or Bantustans, in a process that is similar to the gentrification that is reorganizing the American metropolis today.

Both the settler state of Israel and apartheid were created in 1948 and when the international community imposed sanctions on South Africa’s white minority government in the 1980s, Israel continued to sell goods, munitions, and even nuclear technology to the rogue regime. Conversely, South Africa’s black majority has long articulated its steadfast solidarity with the Palestinians, with no less an authority than the iconic Nelson Mandela asserting that the emancipation of black South Africans is incomplete without Palestinian sovereignty. His fellow Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has gone even farther with his assessment that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is actually worse than apartheid.

While Israeli soldiers are rushing to the aid of their fellow white settlers in Africa, so too are politicians in the U.S. helping Israel stare down the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which represents an existential threat to the state, much as an international embargo sparked the abolition of apartheid 25 years ago. Cynically branding criticism of Israel’s occupation as anti-Semitism, 27 states have approved either legislation or executive orders prohibiting state agencies from doing business with vendors who support BDS; in February the U.S. Senate passed a bill introduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to extend the ban nationwide, a move the ACLU decries as a violation of the constitutional guarantee of free speech.

Rubio is also carrying water for the Trump administration’s plan to re-establish control over Venezuela’s ample oil supplies, which was nationalized by a socialist uprising of the country’s workers–the mostly Afro-Caribbean and mestizo populations who built the country–against the lighter-skinned European descendants who own the country. And just as white South African farmers have asked for Israel’s help in putting down an intifada of destitute blacks, the Trump Administration has asked Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro to join the U.S. in recognizing Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president, even though his party boycotted the elections; two-thirds of voters cast ballots to reelect Hugo Chavez’s successor, Nicholas Maduro, to a second term.

Bolsonaro is himself quite an interesting case. Four months into his presidency, he has already established himself as a Trump Mini-Me, with his rancid racist and misogynistic appeals, demonization of the poor, and cuts to social spending deepening the fissures in a country that abducted more slaves from Africa than any other country in the Western Hemisphere, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is wider than practically anywhere on earth.

What we are witnessing, from Ramallah to Rio, Capetown to Caracas, Green Bay to Gaza, is the white settlers’ last stand as the sun sets on a post-colonial order that has proven to be materially worse than the worldwide Kipling-esque kleptocracy it replaced. The 2008 financial crash that blanketed the world like soot from a nuclear fallout delivered a deafening final verdict on the neoliberal era inaugurated on September 11th, 1973 when Chilean troops stormed the presidential palace of the country’s socialist President, Salvador Allende, at Henry Kissinger’s behest:

Guilty.

Never has the global white settler elite seen its leadership so widely discredited, its privilege so openly challenged, its reputation so ignobly trampled, or a knavish, restless, mob quite so large, or angry, amassed as its gate.

“It wasn’t the indigenous or the Black population who should pay the bill,” Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio da Silva–commonly known as “Lula”– said in 2009 of the global financial crisis, “but those really responsible, the blue-eyed bankers.”

For the crime of being modestly responsive to Brazil’s Black population, Lula today sits in a jail cell, convicted of corruption charges that are almost certainly exaggerated if not fabricated entirely. Like Gramsci or other famous political prisoners of old, he is permitted limited contact with the outside world, his circumstances similar to that of Julian Assange, who earned the enmity of the global white settler class by exposing the state terrorism that is the rebar of monopoly capitalism’s international campaign of dispossession.

Consider, if you will, the almost complete lawlessness that led last month to the stunning images of British police officers frogmarching a visibly feeble Assange from Ecuador’s London Embassy. To surrender Assange to the British, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno took the extraordinary step of rescinding the citizenship of a refugee who had been granted asylum; authorities in the United Kingdom sentenced him to a year in jail for skipping bail in a Swedish sexual assault investigation in which no charges were filed and plan to transfer him to U.S custody when they are expressly forbidden from extraditing anyone to a country that has the death penalty; and the Trump administration is apparently hellbent on prosecuting Assange for publishing leaked information which some might refer to as standard journalistic practice.

Wholly bereft of new ideas, deeply insecure, morally bankrupt, and exposed as frauds, the global white settler elite is doubling down on the only tactic it knows–primitive violence– and closing ranks around each other in a dissonant bid to protect the tribal brand, elude accountability, and delay the inevitability of decolonization.

Africans refer to it as the last kicks of a dying mule and point to the final days of apartheid which produced a surge in violence and corruption as bankers, corporate executives and investors swindled one another to grab what they could before the system of racial privilege went belly up. That did not happen immediately, however; the Lords of capital persuaded Mandela and his comrades within the ANC that the best way to redistribute wealth from the colonizer to the colonized was by replacing industrial enslavement with financial enslavement. The result is that it’s been a quarter century since voters of all races went to the polls to vanquish apartheid and 90 percent of the country’s wealth remains in the hands of 10 percent of the population–overwhelmingly white–while 80 percent of the population–overwhelmingly Black–owns nothing at all according to a 2016 research paper by a graduate student at Stellenbosch University, Anna Orthofer. The official unemployment rate is 27 percent, higher than in the U.S at the nadir of the Great Depression. “The gap between black and white has just grown bigger and bigger,” 59-year-old Thamsanqa Mashigo told Associated Press reporter Andrew Meldrum ahead of the country’s May 8th election, in which the ANC is widely expected to record their lowest vote total since 1994. “And (after) 25 years, I expect(ed) it to be much better. The gap should have closed, not totally, but at least be on the right track.”

The same can be said in the U.S. where 156 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, 42 million African Americas own all of 1 percent of the country’s total wealth. Brazil’s recovery from its worst recession ever has been anemic, and Lenin Moreno’s collaboration with Trump is part of an effort by Ecuador’s white settler class to douse the fire next time in the form of an uprising by the country’s restive, and impoverished indigenous majority. And what is often left unsaid is that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution was sparked by the state’s 1989 massacre of as many as 2, 000 workers protesting the abrupt advent of neoliberal price hikes and austerity policies.

Venezuela’s proletariat was merely the first to reject the satrap’s response to their demands, but like dominoes falling, one nation after another is reaching its tipping point, and realizing, finally, that the epochal disaster that has befallen us is not of our making. If it wasn’t clear to African-Americans before it certainly is now after the great heist that was subprime loans: our persistent grinding poverty is not attributable to our depravity but theirs, neither Eric Garner or Philando Castille was murdered because they didn’t pull their pants up, and the water in Flint was not poisoned because we name our kids Trayvon, Shaniqua or Mercedes.

We suffer mightily because someone has stolen all of our shit, and now we want it back.

A great reckoning is due.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Read article with comments.

400 Years a Slave

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Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.

Honore de Balzac

 

Set in a small, Georgia town during the Eisenhower administration, Pete Dexter’s 1988 novel, Paris Trout, pivots on the fatal shooting of a 14-year old black girl by the eponymous white merchant trying to collect a debt. Newly hired by the state to clean “crazy people’s shit” off the walls of a local asylum for $30 each week, Henry Ray Boxer buys an $800 lemon from Trout, who tacks on another $227 for insurance. After agreeing to pay weekly installments of $17.50, the young African American drives off beaming like a lottery winner, only to be promptly rear-ended.

When he is reminded that he just purchased “insurest,” he returns the car, demanding that his creditor either repair it, or cancel his debt.

“It ain’t that kinda insurance” Trout bellows. “You ask your people about what happens they don’t pay Paris Trout.”

Convinced that no white jury would ever convict him, Trout visits the shack Boxer shares with his mother and the girl, Rosie Sayers, and extracts his pound of flesh.

Winner of the 1988 National Book Award, Paris Trout is an absorbing work of literature, yet it doubles as a parable for the European settlers’ 400 year effort to accumulate wealth through the violent dispossession of African-descended people. Just as an agrarian state terrorized slaves as a means of coercion, so too does a modern financial economy rely on profligate bloodshed to extort from African Americans the debt payments which are the rebar of the post-industrial state. No matter if the nation’s principal commodity is cotton, cars or credit, the irreducible constants in American life are the serfdom, and murder, of the black poor and working class.

Consider that when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, blacks owned one-half of one percent of all assets in the U.S; 156 years later, our share has doubled to all of one-percent. Moreover, household wealth for the median black family in the U.S. is roughly $3,600, or about 2 percent of the $147,000 median net worth for an average white family, according to a study of Federal Reserve data compiled by the Institute for Policy Studies. Nearly a third of all African-American families have zero or negative wealth, while the typical Black family in Boston has a net worth of $8.

“If hard work is all it takes to get ahead in America,” a young Stokely Carmichael once said, “Black folks would own this country, lock, stock and barrel.

And yet, for all practical purposes, we own nothing more than did our enslaved ancestors. How is that even possible?

The only plausible explanation for such persistent and near-absolute poverty is a murderous, racialized kleptocracy which reduces African Americans to 42 million automated teller machines from which whites are entitled– nay encouraged– to extract as much wealth as is humanly possible. Blacks who don’t pony up– or worse, challenge the Ponzi scheme which assigns us the permanent role of laborers,debtors and deadbeats– are blackmailed with preemptive strikes like that which killed the fictional Rosie Sayers or the all-too-real Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or Philando Castille or Stephon Clark or any number of videotaped lynchings that are seemingly as ubiquitous as Starbucks in a gentrifying city. Compare, for example, Paris Trout’s belligerence and barbarity to that of the Phoenix police officers who threatened to shoot an African American couple after their four-year old daughter walked out of a store with a doll that had not been paid for.

Get your fucking hands up,” one officer shouts at the couple.

“I can’t put my fucking hands up,” the black woman responds at gunpoint while the other officer manhandles her husband. “I have a fucking baby in my arms. I can’t. I’m pregnant.”

“I don’t fucking care,” the officer shouts, “put your hands up.”

The other officer can be heard later barking at the handcuffed husband “When I tell you to do something you fucking do it.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the man says, clearly fearful for his life and that of his family.

The exchange shines a light on the white tribes of the Americas and their investment in a criminal enterprise, or racket, in which blacks are the primary vehicle for extraction, and the desecration of the black body acts as a kind of promissory note, or guarantee to the lender that all debts will be repaid in full, or in blood.

“You ask your people about what happens they don’t pay Paris Trout.”

The problem is that every pyramid scheme has a shelf life and the political economy of the world’s lone superpower is not immune to the laws of the material world. If you owe the bank $50 grand, the oil magnate J. Paul Getty once said, then you got a problem. But if you owe the bank $50 million, the bank has the problem. Well, Americans are $13 trillion in the hole, which is almost entirely the result of policies designed to undo the New Deal and hollow out the unionized manufacturing sector that empowered black workers and negotiated a fairer wage for employees. Since the national poverty rate reached its nadir in 1973– the same year, coincidentally, that black representation in labor unions peaked– monopoly capital has shifted its emphasis from industrial production to gambits in finance, insurance and real estate, effectively transforming workers into borrowers.

No tribe in America is as highly leveraged, however, as the descendants of chattel slaves. Nearly half of all African Americans have bad credit, according to a 2016 study compared to roughly a quarter of whites. So yawning is the gap in credit scores that whites earning $25,000 annually are likely to have better credit than blacks earning between $65,000 and $75,000.

Nine of every ten black college students enrolled in four-year public universities rely on federally-subsidized student loans compared to six-in-ten white students, and African American who earned their bachelor’s degree from a four-year public university in 2012 owed an average of $3,500 more in school loans than white graduates that year. The default rates widen, rather than narrow, over time, as blacks who tend to bring home less pay than whites struggle to keep up with their payments. Regulators have fined lenders such as Toyota, Fifth Third Bank and Ally for overcharging black and Latinos for car loans and African Americans, on average, pay between $300 and $500 more for an auto loan than do white borrowers. One-in-three blacks between the ages of 18 and 64 have past due medical bills compared to one-in four whites in the same cohort. African Americans are twice as likely to be in arrears on bills including water or utility bills and more likely to have their service disconnected or even lose their home as a result of a lien. And payday lenders absolutely feast on black women.

But to fully understand the larceny that undergirds the twin scourges of racism and monopoly capitalism, you need only interrogate the proliferation of high-interest home loans, or subprime mortgages, which triggered the collapse of the global real estate market in 2008. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute of data compiled at the zenith of the real estate boom found that 53 percent of all black borrowers were issued subprime loans, compared to 47 percent of Latinos and a quarter of white borrowers. In New York City, African-American home buyers in 2006 were four times more likely than whites to be saddled with a subprime mortgage, wrote Columbia University sociologist Saskia Sassen in the book White Collar Criminals and the Financial Meltdown, citing data compiled by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. Meanwhile, another study found that between 2004 and 2008, only 6.2 percent of white borrowers with a credit score of 660 or higher received a subprime loan while the rate for black borrowers with similar credit scores was 21.4 percent. In fact, the lending disparities actually widened when households with higher incomes were compared, meaning that an African-American family earning more than $200,000 a year was more likely to be given a subprime loan than a white family making less than $30,000 annually, leaving New York University Sociology Professor Jacob Faber to conclude that borrowers of color were targeted not because they were credit risks, but because they weren’t.

The difference is this stark: In the nation’s most prosperous majority-black community, the Washington, D.C., suburb of Prince George’s County, Maryland, one in every 624 homes is in foreclosure, while across the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, where two of every three residents is white, the ratio is one in every 5,189 homes.

Good-faith actors can certainly debate the scale of government redress, but historically, policymakers internationally have responded to debt crises of the magnitude of the 2008 contraction by forcing big creditors to accept a reduction, or “haircut” on their loan portfolios, freeing up consumers’ cash and restoring the buying power that is the fuel source for any capitalist economy. Secondly, government regulators indict, prosecute and ultimately jail lenders for fraud and other white-collar crimes in an attempt to discourage repeated wrongdoing or “moral hazard” in the future. During the savings and loan crisis, for example, the Department of Justice, under the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, jailed hundreds of them, including Charles Keating, whose Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal cost taxpayers $3.4 billion.

The failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 cost taxpayers nearly 10 times that amount, and yet the Obama administration did not prosecute a single Wall Street executive for malfeasance. Indeed, the nation’s first black president instead applied moral hazard to borrowers rather than their creditors, bailing out everyone except the very people who were swindled out of their homes and life-savings, purchasing toxic paper from unscrupulous lenders for 100 cents on the dollar, repaying the investors who purchased the liar’s loans and other fraudulent financial instruments, and showering the big banks and corporations with trillions in cheap money in a bid to effectively re-inflate the speculative bubble and send the stock market soaring. Government largesse even extended to foreign banks with especially large stakes in the subprime mortgage game.

Get it? Everyone got a bailout but your black ass, while the nation’s central bank essentially printed money in an effort to encourage Wall Street con men to play you for a sucka yet again.

What you got, on the other hand, was a feckless black president and an offer you can’t refuse, codified in the 33 states that have conveniently passed Stand-your-Ground laws since the height of the subprime market in 2006. Why that year? Economists were warning of a housing bubble as far back as early 2002 and by 2006, it had become abundantly clear that the real estate market was propped up by fraudulent loans–targeting “mud people” as some bankers referred to us– that far outstripped borrowers’ ability to repay. What if millions of African Americans had begun to get ideas like the one espoused by the defiant Henry Ray Boxer?

Well, if you’re the white settler, you don’t even consider giving the money back or anything resembling justice. Instead you pass a state law allowing you to shoot African Americans practically on sight, if he is found sufficiently menacing, which he may very well be if he has just lost everything he owned to the same people who raped, murdered and tortured his ancestors. Hence, this apparent surge of violence against African Americans since the onset of the Great Recession– which is equal parts debt collection and equal parts shock and awe– is intended to reassure whites that their capital, and privileged position in society, are safe, and to warn blacks considering a revolt that they are decidedly not.

In their excellent book, American Exceptionalism and American Innocence, the authors Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong, noted this tendency in no less an authority on white settler psychopathy than Thomas Jefferson who wrote:

“Blacks being unable to forget the terrible wrongs done to them would nurse murderous wishes . . .while whites would live in a state of anticipatory fear that urged preemptive violence.”

Many intellectuals of the African diaspora have remarked upon the European settlers’ homicidal reflexes, including most recently, the best-selling author, and University of California-Irvine Professor of African American studies, Frank Wilderson, whose theory of Afro Pessimism asserts that Marxism and feminism are inadequate in addressing the fundamental nature of black subjugation which is neither exploitation or alienation but murder. While neither Paris Trout nor the Phoenix officers who threatened a black family at gunpoint is likely to be familiar with the tenets of Afro pessimism, most white Americans recognize, at least subconsciously, that they occupy a privileged position in the world relative to people of color, generally, and blacks specifically. Whites are therefore largely indifferent when confronted with videotaped evidence of police brutality: they have skin in the game, and the awful truth is that each black corpse reassures whites that a political economy which is rigged in their favor remains, gruesomely intact.

Furthermore, the relationship between white settler colonialism and financial engineering dates back at least to 1804 when a slave rebellion liberated Haiti from France, which demanded that the newly independent nation reimburse the government and slave owners for the loss of their land and capital, which was, in fact, the slaves themselves. Financed by French banks and the predecessor to Citibank, that debt, which would be valued at $21 billion today, was only repaid in 1947.

The end of the Cold War, however triggered a period of financial annexation around the world, creating what Columbia University Sociology Professor Saskia Sassen refers to as “extraction zones” in the global urban sphere. One example is South Africa’s booming payday loan industry.

Legally prohibited from owning property under the apartheid government, South Africa’s black majority surfaced from white settler rule in 1994 with an appetite for all the material comforts they’d been denied for 46 years, but no collateral. Into the breach stepped the payday loan storefronts which proliferated in cities like Johannesburg, Durban and Capetown, plunging the country’s indigenous population into historic levels of debt by charging monthly interest rates of as much as 40 percent. Similar to African Americans, South Africa’s blacks are no better off materially than they were during apartheid.

The poisoning of the water supply in the majority black city of Flint, Michigan, is another example. Under state law, emergency managers appointed by the governor can unilaterally rewrite all city contracts save one: the financial terms between the city and Wall Street bondholders who purchased municipal bonds often invest surplus cash that accrues from neoliberal policies like regressive tax cuts. Since 2013, as much as 56 percent of Michigan’s black population has been disenfranchised by the emergency manager law, and similar to the subprime fraud, no Michigan officials have been held criminally liable for the decision that led to the contamination of Flint’s drinking water.

The normative suffering of African Americans should be the starting point for any public conversation about reparations. Is it possible to repair a wound that is constantly being ripped open? Should we continue to do business with people who mean us harm? Or should we heed, finally, Maya Angelou’s admonition to believe those who have told us who they are, time and time again?

“You ask your people about what happens they don’t pay Paris Trout.”

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Read article with comments.

Building Community Through Murder: 400 Years of Blameless Cops and Black Corpses

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The announcement last week by New York’s State Attorney General Leticia James that her office would not prosecute the police officers who fatally shot an African-American man armed only with a metal pipe, was not entirely unexpected. In New York City and across the nation,  the police slayings of unarmed Blacks– such as Eric Garner in Staten Island, or 37-year-old Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana– seldom results in criminal charges, even when videotape evidence is available. When criminal charges are filed, the trials typically culminate in an acquittal–such as the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot an African-American motorist, Philando Castile–or, a relatively light sentence, as in the case of a Chicago patrolman convicted of second-degree murder for the shooting death of a Black teenager as he walked away from the police. Just last month,  Sacramento’s chief prosecutor cleared two Sacramento police officers of wrongdoing in the fatal 2018 shooting of an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark; According to the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento County District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert has exonerated police officers in 34 consecutive shootings of civilians.

Still, there is one case in recent memory that illustrates to activists and the legal community that the American justice system is indeed capable of holding police officers accountable in the killing of unarmed civilians. When two Louisiana police officers, Derrick Stafford, and Norris Greenhouse, fatally shot a 6-year-old boy, Jeremy Mardis and wounded the boys’ father, Chris Few, during a traffic stop on November 3, 2015, the officers were charged with second-degree murder and arrested within 72 hours. At the trial, witnesses testified that Few had his hands in the air when the officers opened fire. Jurors convicted Stafford of manslaughter and in March of 2017, a judge sentenced Stafford to 40 years, the maximum allowed by law; Greenhouse plead guilty to lesser charges and received a sentence of seven years.

What made the Louisiana case such a remarkable outlier in the traditional American narrative of Black corpses and blameless cops? Well, for starters, the corpse in this case, Mardis, was white, and the police officers, Stafford and Greenhouse, are both Black.

“If it had been two white men who killed that little baby, it would’ve been justifiable homicide,” Stafford’s aunt, Bertha Andrews, told reporters outside the courthouse after the judge handed down his sentence. “If it had been a black baby, it would’ve been justifiable homicide.”

History corroborates Andrews’ interpretation of events. For all practical purposes, the penalty for killing an unarmed black man in the U.S. is usually less severe than that for killing a beaver in Maine.

The  Mardis case shines a light on slavery’s afterlife and its unyielding contradictions while demonstrating that America’s criminal justice system is perfectly capable of addressing what amounts to state terrorism when it wants to. But it can also inform an unprecedented national discussion on what reparations to African-Americans should include.

To be sure, commercial exploitation has played a central role in the experience of the African in the Americas, virtually since the moment we first stepped ashore in the New World 400 years ago. But the chief mechanism for reinforcing that exploitative relationship is now–and has always been–murder. It is stunning to note that young African-American men are 21 times more likely to be murdered by the police than are young white men, or that one-in-three blacks can expect to be imprisoned during their lifetime compared to one-in-17 whites, but it is perhaps even more stunning to understand that such disparities provide whites with a certain emotional succor. In a 2007 study, white support for the death penalty increased from 36 percent to 52 percent when informed of racial disparities in corporal punishment. In a 2014 study, researchers showed white Californians one set of photographs of inmates in which blacks accounted for 45 percent of the population and another in which blacks accounted for a quarter of the population. Whites presented with the “blacker” photographs were significantly less likely than whites shown the “whiter” photographs to sign a petition softening California’s Draconian three-strikes law. A study of whites in New York City produced similar results.

Even more disturbing is the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws. Since 2006, 33 states have overridden bedrock legal principles dating back to 17th- century British common law requiring anyone claiming self-defense to assume a defensive posture before using lethal force. The Castle doctrine–a man’s home is his castle–provides an exemption in the event of an intruder or a burglar. Stand Your Ground, illogically, extends the Castle doctrine to public spaces, effectively granting whites a license to kill people of color. A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found that homicides in which the killer is white and the victim is black are 10 times more likely to be ruled justified than cases in which the killer is black and the victim white; in states with Stand Your Ground laws the racial disparity is even wider.

In a video that went viral, the lone black state senator on Arkansas’ Senate Judiciary Committee, Stephanie Flowers, angrily denounced a Stand Your Ground bill last month. “I’ll be as quick as I can, as quick as it takes to kill somebody, I guess. You want me to be that quick.It doesn’t take much to look on the local news every night and see how many black kids, black boys, black men are being killed with these ‘stand your ground’ defenses that people raise. And they get off. So I take issue with that. I’m the only person here of color. I’m a mother, too. And I have a son. And I care as much for my son as y’all care for y’all’s. But my son doesn’t walk the same path as yours does. So this debate deserves more time.”

The result is that any financial recompense is worthless unless African-Americans’ safety can be guaranteed as well. The profligate violence against blacks has sparked a growing nationwide movement to abolish the police. Endorsed by a wide range of activists and organizations that include Angela Davis, the Black Youth Project in Chicago, and Brooklyn College sociologist Alex S. Vitale, abolitionists reject the assumption that police forces are formed to protect the people from the worst elements among them, and that the thin blue line is the only thing standing between order and anarchy. In his groundbreaking 2017 book,  “The End of Policing,” Vitale argues that police reforms implemented following the 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown are akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

“The suppression of workers and the tight surveillance and micromanagement of black and brown lives have always been at the center of policing,” writes Vitale.

In May of last year, the mostly white parishioners at First Congregational Church of Oakland took the extraordinary step of pledging to never call the cops again in almost any circumstance. “We can no longer tolerate the trauma inflicted on our communities by policing,” Nichola Torbett, a white church volunteer, said at a ceremony attended by churchgoers who held photos of African-Americans shot dead by law enforcement.”

The abolitionist movement is wholly consistent with the theories posited by Frantz Fanon, the psychiatrist, revolutionary and writer from the French colony of Martinique, who wrote that white settler colonialism is expressed mainly through primitive violence, but that the European settlers’ narcissistic self-image leaves them largely incapable of seeing themselves as they are, or acknowledging the violence that is their stock-in-trade. University of California-Irvine Professor of African American Studies, Frank Wilderson, takes Fanon a step further, asserting that attacks on blacks provide comfort not only to whites but all other ethnic and racial groups as well, serving as a mile marker of identity, status, and privilege in such a stratified society.

“What we’re seeing is that the world secures its rights and privileges through this ritualistic violence against black people,” Wilderson told me in an interview last year. “It is through our reproduction of the idea of a slave that we come to understand freedom. Violence against black people is absolutely necessary to build a sense of community and assure the psychic health of everybody else.”

Known as Afro-pessimism, Wilderson’s theory has spread like wildfire in recent years, especially among the generation of blacks who’ve come of age in an era when the desecration of the black body is broadcast and normalized on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook Live and Instagram. Wilderson travels the world explaining Afro-pessimism and the ideology has begun to inform college debate competitions, film studies, and hip-hop.

Wilderson says this is because all other theories of political economy are insufficient to explain the historical experience of blacks in the U.S.

“Marx assumes the essential oppressed unit in any society is the worker, and radical feminism posits that women suffer because they are, in fact, women,” Wilderson told me. “But Marxism and theories of feminist subjugation have an inadequate analysis of violence and are concerned chiefly with exploitation and alienation. Neither addresses the essential nature of black subjugation, which is murder.”

In impassioned testimony, community activists last month urged Sacramento City Council members to fire the police officers responsible for Stephon Clark’s death. One protester Jane Mantee pleaded with the board in language and a tone that seemed prophetic, transforming the public hearing into a kind of seance, summoning 400 years of murdered Africans to testify to the barbarism of a wretched land. .

Y’all know what happened to Stephon Clark was wrong: morally wrong ethically wrong inhumane. That was someone’s child, he was a human, he was a father. It was wrong and y’all know that. Each one of y’all know it was wrong. If it was your child, your friend, your people your kin who got shot like that in his granny’s backyard, the very least you’d want is for the folks who did it to no longer have a badge or a gun to do it again.”

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Read article with comments.

Honky Talk: The Lingua Franca of White Respectability Politics

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The one thing the people in power despise and hate the most is to be laughed at. Make sure that your strategy includes demeaning the oppressor, taking the clothes off him or her, making them look like buffoons. Now this is an important strategy because the white American male is very insecure.  

Dhoruba bin-Wahad

First of a Three-Part Series

At first glance, British parliamentarian George Galloway’s 2005 appearance  before the U. S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee for Investigations had all the hallmarks of a lamb headed to slaughter. From his lofty perch, Minnesota’s junior Senator, the Republican Norm Coleman, towered over the august chamber like Zeus atop Mount Olympus. Tall and angular with a helmet of sandy brown hair and the telegenic blandness of a morning news anchor, he banged his gavel authoritatively on the desktop to bring the hearing to order, while the balding Galloway– shorter, stouter, and older than the committee chairman–initially appeared ill-at-ease in the dock, his natty suit and smart necktie lending him an almost effeminate air.

A former prosecutor, Coleman didn’t possess anything resembling a smoking gun in alleging that Galloway pocketed millions in kickbacks to help Saddam Hussein circumvent an international embargo, yet delivered his opening statement with the confidence of a man accustomed to holding all the cards.

“We have your name on Iraqi documents, some prepared before the fall of Saddam . . . that identify you as one of the allocation holders.¨ . .  .  another official in talking about another allocation holder said, ‘Of course they made a profit. That’s the whole point.’ Surcharges and oil contracts were given back to the Saddam regime and were the responsibility of the allocation holder. The evidence clearly indicates you, as an allocation beneficiary, who transferred the allocations to Fawaz Zureikat, who became chairman of your (nonprofit) organization Mariam’s Appeal.  Senior Iraqi officials have confirmed that you in fact received oil allocations and that the documents that identify you as an allocation recipient are valid.”

When he was done, Coleman ceded the floor, at which point Galloway proceeded, in plain proletarian English, to rip the chairman a new asshole.

“Senator, I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice,” Galloway said, according to an edited version of his remarks. “I want to point out areas where there are – let’s be charitable and say errors–you assert that I have had ‘many meetings’ with Saddam Hussein. This is false. I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein and by no stretch of the English language can that be described as many meetings. As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and to try and persuade him to let United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country, a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of Defense made of his.

Now you have nothing on me, Senator, except my name on lists of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Baghdad. I gave my heart and soul to try to stop the mass killing of one million Iraqis, most of them children. I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong .”

When Galloway finished, a Senate staffer later told me, there was a deafening silence inside the chamber, as though a live grenade had been tossed into an enemy trench, only to be hurled back in the direction from whence it came.

It was not, however, just the Scotsman’s concussive invective, his defiance of the unwritten protocols that afford Capitol Hill lawmakers a certain deference, or even his exposure of Coleman and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, as frauds. What was truly remarkable was that in contrast to his accusers’ ineffable torpor, Galloway seemed to be speaking an entirely different language, reveling in the enunciation of colorful phrases such as “schoolboy-howler” or “cock-a-poop,” while Coleman’s monotone was cold and officious, his language measured, and his smile as wan and saccharine as a used car salesman trying to coerce some sucker to sign on the bottom line.

Galloway’s declarations of  solidarity with the Iraqi people transformed the chamber into a pulpit, not testifying so much as bearing witness, his sermon an interrogation of our material reality.
Galloway’s declarations of  solidarity with the Iraqi people transformed the chamber into a pulpit, not testifying so much as bearing witness, his sermon an interrogation of our material reality. Coleman and Levin drily hammered away at esoteric legal points with transactional language so bloodless and pious that it suggested a foreclosure on all possibilities save one: this was their world, and theirs alone.

 

In the 500 years since Christopher Columbus washed ashore in the Americas, the European settler has never seen his leadership so openly discredited, with a perfect storm of economic, political and environmental catastrophes bearing down on the world.

“It was the rich who were responsible for the crisis,” Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva said of the most recent global financial crisis. “It wasn’t the indigenous or the black population who should pay the bill, but those really responsible, the blue-eyed bankers.”

But it’s a Pyrrhic victory: in severing ties with a radical polity that is the motor for history, the white settler has entombed himself in an airless crypt of his own design, denuded the language that is a predicate for liberal democracy, and rendered himself practically mute, like a developmentally disabled child reared by a pack of wolves.
The mostly white men who own the New World have, over the last 45 years, managed to put down a postwar uprising by the mostly nonwhite workers who built it, largely by purging dissenting voices from public life. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory: in severing ties with a radical polity that is the motor for history, the white settler has entombed himself in an airless crypt of his own design, denuded the language that is a predicate for liberal democracy, and rendered himself practically mute, like a developmentally disabled child reared by a pack of wolves.

 

Wholly bereft of new ideas, deeply insecure, and morally bankrupt, the settler elite has doubled down on its narrative of privilege and power in a dissonant bid to protect the tribal brand, and escape accountability. One black woman journalist described it as “white respectability politics.”

Ours is a ruling class of few serious people. Mediocrity rises like steam, inverting meritocratic values, dissolving democracy, and sealing off a dystopian hell where, “by design, no one’s needs are met¨as Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote.¨

Galloway’s testimony recalls an earlier era when the governed routinely challenged the government, and not always politely, as was the case with Paul Robeson’s 1956 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “I am not being tried for whether I am a communist; I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people who are still second-class citizens in this United States of America .  .  .  You are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Testifying before the same committee four years earlier, Coleman Young, who would go on to become Detroit’s first black mayor, mocked his accusers for mistaking him for a “stool pigeon” when asked to identify black communists, and excoriated a southern lawmaker for his mispronunciation of the word “Negro.”

Robeson and Young bookend a radical black political tradition that is the Rosetta Stone of modern revolution. Between 1865 and 1900, every state below the Mason-Dixon line experimented with integrated political parties that, with varying degrees of success, redistributed wealth downward, creating public education, building hospitals, extending transit lines, and reforming tax laws and the criminal justice system.

Jim Crow disbanded the postbellum rainbow coalitions, but they began to regroup at the Great Depression’s nadir, forming a tripartite alliance between African Americans, Trotskyists and trade unionists who resuscitated a moribund economy, and imbued it with enough buying power to produce the Industrial Age’s most prosperous middle class.

African-Americans’ influence on the body politic is at once mathematical and messianic. With half of white voters typically pitted against the other, the tiebreaker has historically gone to a black electorate that is the nation’s most solidly progressive bloc.  
African-Americans’ influence on the body politic is at once mathematical and messianic. With half of white voters typically pitted against the other, the tiebreaker has historically gone to a black electorate that is the nation’s most solidly progressive bloc.  Just as important, though,  is our use of a political idiom that is grounded in Diasporic oral traditions, which adjudicates the despair and yet ennobles us with its prophetic vision of redemption, like a gospel-choir’s soulful call-and-response, inventing language in a genuine effort to inquire-Where are you? Can you meet me by the creek? Is your pain like mine?-and connect one runaway slave to another on our trek to the promised land.

 

As irresistible and  improvisational  as the Blues, this narrative has inspired everyone from the Great Liberator, Simon Bolivar, to Ho Chi Minh, Mark Twain to the German cleric and Nazi-fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Beat Poets to the Beatles, and one British MP by the name of George Galloway. Bernardine Dohrn told me a few years ago that she spent her first year at the helm of Students for a Democratic Society touring college campuses nationwide, counseling student organizers to prioritize connecting with their black classmates.

But the political Left began to come undone with the passage of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which mandated that trade unions weed out suspected communists, according to the historian Philip Foner, by asking black workers questions such as this:

“Have you ever had dinner with a mixed group?”

And this: Have you ever danced with a white girl?”

Whites, Foner wrote, were asked “have you ever had any conversations that would lead you to believe (the accused) is rather advanced in his thinking on racial matters?”

Taft-Hartley’s pogrom was followed by COINTELPRO, Nixon’s polarizing  Southern Strategy, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s infamous memo to the U.S. business community, the banks’ 1975 takeover of New York City’s budget which provided a blueprint for isolating black trade unionists, and finally, the Democratic Leadership Council’s marginalization of its Left flank.

By January of 2015, organized labor again saw itself in a tripartite alliance, only in league this time with the Democratic Party, and Wall Street. I was starting a communications job at the California Nurses Association–widely regarded as the country’s most progressive labor union–when a cherished San Jose charity hospital went on the auction block. The CNA’s umbrella organization, National Nurses United, or NNU, supported hospital executives’ plan  to sell the facility to a private healthcare provider with a reputation for ripping off Medicaid, its patients, and its workforce. A 2014 federal audit of the hospitals managed by the company, Prime Healthcare, found 217 cases of improperly diagnosed kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition that is seldom diagnosed in the US, and unsurprisingly, qualifies for relatively high Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Ironically, East San Jose’s working class neighborhoods of Latinos, South Asians, and blacks preferred a bid from Santa Clara County, but the nurses union never bothered to ask their opinion.

Two months later, NNU Director RoseAnn DeMoro called an emergency staff meeting soliciting suggestions from the overwhelmingly white 65 or so attendees.

“If we don’t do something different now, we’re going to die,” she said.

The hand of a young Latina labor organizer shot up. “Why don’t we start to build partnerships with the immigrant rights community that’s politically active and organizing across California,” I recall her saying. “We could really strengthen our own organizing capacity and deepen our roots in a community that is looking to join forces with institutional allies.”

You could’ve heard a gnat piss on cotton in Georgia.

Later, the young organizer would tell me privately me that had she been a white male, and proposed coalescing with some off-brand faction of Silicon Valley white liberals, DeMoro would’ve been positively giddy.

“Everybody knows that RoseAnn loves her white boys,” she said.

Two months later,  I found myself in a half-lit, mildewed, second-floor conference room in the union’s downtown Oakland office, seated among a clutch of maybe 7 or 8 other communications staffers, tasked with identifying “nurses values,” which I had assumed meant that we would pore over completed questionnaires returned by the rank-and-file. Instead, the communications manager, Sarah Cecile, stood astride an easel that leaned like a sprinter at the finish line, her magic marker poised to add to the wan list of nouns that glared accusingly at me, while the mostly-white staff barked out suggestions as if playing a game of charades.

“Wait,” I said, “we’re telling the nurses what their values should be? Shouldn’t we be asking the nurses what their values are, you know, like in a survey, or a poll?”

“That’s a bad word for us,” said a graphic artist. “Polling is frowned upon here.”

“But if we’re telling the rank and file what to do, doesn’t that make the union just another boss that the nurses have to answer to?

I was fired five days later and later wrote about the experience in a blogpost, describing the communications director as a “mediocrity,” and DeMoro as a “monster of staggering charmlessness,” borrowing Richard Burton’s description of Lucille Ball.

In June of this year, the Real News Network’s Executive Producer, Paul Jay, offered me a job heading their Baltimore bureau. I had occasionally watched the left-of-center internet newscast, but similar to Democracy Now, its didactic, top-down, journalism centers whiteness and eschews real reportage and storytelling for a polemical approach that is seldom interesting or impactful, featuring, for example, mostly-white panel discussions about a city whose population is nearly two-thirds African-American, or one reporter interviewing another. Once, their financial crimes expert, Bill Black, was ticking off a series of scandals that have beleaguered recent International Monetary Fund directors, when he dismissed allegations by an African immigrant housekeeper that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted her in 2011, indicating that  her lies to immigration officials exonerated the banker, parroting the Manhattan District Attorney’s rationale for dismissing the charges.

This narrative raises troubling questions, however. First, aren’t rape shield laws designed to protect sexual assault victims from exactly the kinds of character attacks prosecutors used to qualify dropping the charges? Second, anyone arguing that the sex was consensual would have to ignore the long and sordid history of sexual predation by European men against nonwhite women. And thirdly, the encounter was so brief that it could only have been an assault; to believe otherwise means that a 32-year-old woman saw a middle-aged man emerge naked from the shower, dropped immediately to her knees to perform oral sex, and then left without cleaning the room, risking her union job.

Still, I accepted Jay’s offer, primarily because it would afford me the opportunity to work with Marshall “Eddie” Conway, a former political prisoner who is a hero in Baltimore’s black community; together, I thought we could do quality, narrative journalism that would put viewers in mind of David Simon’s celebrated television series, The Wire.

But Jay rescinded the job offer a week later when he got wind of my CNA blogpost because, he essentially said,  I had been rude to white people.

Since I began working in newsrooms in 1985, I’ve seen journalists describe Hillary Clinton as a “bitch” Serena Williams as a whore, Brazil’s President as a drunk, out an NFL quarterback as gay, and assert that 2Pac deserved to be murdered. None, to my knowledge, suffered any repercussions.

But just as Coleman and Levin had no investment in justice, and DeMoro has none in labor organizing, Jay has no real investment in journalism, only in maintaining a system of white privilege that serves the same purpose as a tariff, protecting whiteness from better-made foreign imports. That white privilege discourages competition and promotes the manufacture of an inferior or mediocre product is of no concern to the vast majority of white Americans, be they reactionaries or liberals.

Language atrophies, democracy rots.

In a sense, communities of color are confronted with the same dilemma that one of Conway’s contemporaries, the slain revolutionary George Jackson, wrote of nearly 50 years ago in his book of prison letters, Blood in My Eye, when he referenced a particular white inmate who could be useful to the black prisoners’ reform movement “when he stops talking honky.”

It’s Nation Time

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First Step: Ending Poverty as We Know It

A generation of Americans has come of age since Dollar Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it,” purging the public assistance rolls of tens of thousands of families and reducing dramatically the monthly cash payments for those who continued to collect it. This, the mostly white and male intelligentsia proclaimed, would arrest the culture of dependency that impoverished the urban underclass, both materially and spiritually.

As a young reporter, I covered the last days of the system known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which was modeled on a patchwork of state-managed pension programs for widows that began in the years before World War I. And I can attest to the fact that AFDC was indeed a monstrous policy: degrading, dehumanizing and insufficient by a factor of 10. But what is also crystal-clear 21 years after AFDC’s repeal, is that poverty, particularly for the urban underclass, is worse than ever, and neither welfare nor the women demonized for receiving it, were to blame for their immiseration.

A Guaranteed Minimum Income would even address the reactionary trope that government assistance induces moral hazard and discourages work. As a taxpayer’s income rises, the subsidy would be reduced in increments, ensuring that the more you work, the more you earn..

It does not speak well of my maturity to mention this but remember the schoolyard taunt –the smeller’s the feller– that pointed an accusing finger at the boy who first identified the unmistakable odor of a nasty fart? Well, the same applies to those who identify the malodorous nature of even the most meager welfare state. When it comes to the stink of moral decay in our public affairs, monopoly capital and its spokesman are the real culprits.

By virtually any existential or material measure–income, wealth, educational outcomes, marriage rates, housing, nutrition, access to transportation, and health–the poor are significantly worse off than they were before 1996. I have not seen any studies but my guess is that even child-support collections have fallen off since the mid-90s, if only because deadbeat dads are earning less, if they are employed at all.

And yet our lawmakers, the media, and the academy are practically mute on the subject of Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and how to fix this broken arrangement.

If we are to be saved–or better yet, if we are to save ourselves–then single-payer, universal health care must be the lynchpin of any programmatic effort to move towards 21st-century socialism. But very high on the people’s “to do” list should be the implementation of a Guaranteed Minimum Income or Negative Income Tax, modeled, believe it or not, on what one Richard Milhous Nixon proposed nearly five decades ago.

Likely the only idea that Martin Luther King Jr. and Nixon ever agreed on, the Guaranteed Minimum Income fell short of Congressional approval but ultimately produced the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has proven to be one of the most effective poverty-fighting programs in history. A nationwide minimum income would work similarly. Every month, the treasury would deposit the cash benefit into the bank account of every taxpayer in the country, then claw it back, as needed, at tax time, from earners whose reported income exceeded the threshold in their region.

A Guaranteed Minimum Income would even address the reactionary trope that government assistance induces moral hazard and discourages work. As a taxpayer’s income rises, the subsidy would be reduced in increments, ensuring that the more you work, the more you earn.

Versions of a basic income grant have been implemented in Finland and have been on the table for nearly 15 years in South Africa. It is a Keynesian tool to restore buying power in our hobbled demand economy and reverse the debt deflation that will inevitably produce a financial catastrophe. Moreover, a basic monthly income grant can help us develop a blueprint of priorities–akin to South Africa’s 1955 Freedom Charter–as we endeavor to remake our country, and deepen our civic dialogue about the kind of Republic we want, and who, in America, should get what?